A Travel Guide to Taitung, Taiwan’s Rice Basket County

A hand holding some rice on the stalk in Taitung, Taiwan

Taitung (台東 or Taidong, meaning “Taiwan East”) is the most remote county in Taiwan – some locals even call it Houshan (後山), meaning “behind the mountains.”

As a traveler, you’re likely to fall in love with the mostly rural, bucolic, extremely laid-back southeastern corner of Taiwan. Taitung is known for having the freshest air, cleanest water, and best rice in the country.

Come here for slow travel, cycling through rice paddies, meeting Taiwanese aboriginal people, and road trips along the coast or stunningly beautiful East Rift Valley. Off the coast, Green Island and Orchid Island are two of the most rewarding offshore islands in Taiwan.

In this article, I’ve compiled my experiences from multiple visits to Taitung over 10+ years to introduce its top attractions, how to get to them, what to eat, where to stay, how to plan your itinerary, events, and more.

Taitung Introduction

A group of young Taiwanese aboriginal men posing for the camera
Amis aboriginals we met while driving through Taitung

Evidence of human occupation in Taitung goes back 25,000 years, as uncovered at the Baxiandong caves (八仙洞) on the coast. In Taitung city, right beside the train station, the Beinan site (卑南遺址) has upright “moon rocks” and over 200 stone burial coffins dating back thousands of years.

Taitung has long been home to the Amis, Puyuma, and Bunun tribes. It was the last corner of the island to be settled by Chinese, in the late 1800s, hundreds of years after they settled Tainan and the west coast.

Today, one-third of the county’s population is indigenous, more than any other county in Taiwan. It is also has the lowest population, and lowest population density, of any county on mainland Taiwan.

An expansive valley filled with farms and rice paddies
Taitung’s beautiful East Rift Valley

Two highways run from Hualien down to Taitung City – both are perfect for road trips and both are open following the April 2024 earthquake. Inland Highway 9 runs through the East Rift Valley (花東縱谷 or Huadong Valley, meaning Hualien-Taitung Valley), which is between an inland and a coastal mountain range.

Because the round-Taiwan train line also runs down this valley, this is the way most travelers go. The towns of Chishang, Guanshan, and Luye make perfect bases for cycling and exploring the region.

Looking up a gray beach at the shoreline
The coast of Taitung

Highway 11 runs down the scenic coast but has very limited transportation, so driving is best. Sanxiantai Arch Bridge is a top attraction, while Dulan surfing town is the best place to spend a night, or chill for days (or weeks!) on end.

Taitung City feels more like a rural town than a city. It has limited attractions but is a gateway to Green Island and Orchid Island off the coast.

Travelers often just pass right Taitung city on the train, or stop there to change to a different train for getting to Kaohsiung or other places on the west coast.

Green Island, with the mountains of mainland Taiwan visible in the distance

Getting to Taitung

The front white car of a train with red designs in red, parked at a train station platform outdoors
A Puyuma Express train bound for Taitung

There are flights from Taipei city center’s Songshan Airport to Taitung, and flights from Taitung Airport to Orchid Island.

Most travelers get to Taitung by regular (TRC) train from Taipei or Hualien. See my guide to booking TRC tickets, including e-tickets. The HSR (High Speed Rail) does not go to the east coast of Taiwan.

The traveling time from Taipei to Chishang (my most recommended town in Taitung) is 3 hr 15 min to 4 hours. Taipei to Taitung city will take 4-5 hours. Coming from Hualien, that will take 1-2 hours to Chishang or 1.5 to 3 hrs to Taitung City.

When searching for trains, you will see many types, as follows:

  • Local Trains: the slowest, reservation not possible, just swipe your EasyCard or buy a ticket with cash
  • Chu-Kuang: faster, can reserve seats up to 28 days in advance, or swipe EasyCard / buy a standing ticket at the stantion. Doing this will not guarantee a seat, but if any seats are free, you can sit
  • Tze-Chiang Ltd. Express 3000, Puyuma Express, and Taroko Express: fastest, must reserve up to 28 days in advance, standing tickets not allowed, often sell out
Nick Kembel on a scooter with his two kids, with palm trees and typical Taitung scenery around them
Exploring Taitung by scooter with my kids

The best way to explore Taitung is by bicycle or scooter in towns like Chishang, Guanshan, or Luye. Rent a scooter or bicycle in Chishang, scooter in Guanshan, bicycle in Luye, or scooter in Luye here or here.

You’ll find more bicycle and scooter rental shops around the stations in Chishang, Guanshan, and Taitung city. Scooter rental shops in Taiwan are becoming stricter about renting to foreigners. Some don’t want to, or they may ask for an IDP, passport, AND your home country motorcycle license. If you have a Taiwanese motorcycle license, you’re good.

If you want to visit the coast of Taitung by public transportation, go to Taitung City first then hire a scooter or take buses up the coast.

The ferries to Green Island and to Orchid Island depart from Fugang Harbor (台東富岡漁港) north of the city, which you can reach by bus. Many people get seasick on these ferries. The ride to Orchid Island is especially long, so consider flying.

Aerial view of a train running through trees with a beach and coastline in the background
The train travels down the coast south of Taitung city

After stopping in towns like Chishang, Guanshan, Luye, or Taitung City, travelers often continue on by train to Kaohsiung, Kenting National Park, Xiaoliuqiu island, or other places on the west coast.

For Kaohsiung or other cities on the west coast, you can search for direct trains from any of those Taitung towns. However, you will have more time options if you switch trains in Taitung city. For example, Chishang to Taitung + Taitung to Kaohsiung will have more train times than if you search for Chishang to Kaohsiung direct trains.

For Kenting National Park or Xiaoliuqiu, take the train from anywhere to Taitung to Fangliao on the west coast. At Fangliao, you can hop on the bus to Kenting or take a taxi to the Xiaoliuqiu ferry harbor in Donggang.

Nick Kembel on a red scooter on the highway with the coast of Kenting visible behind him
A coastal road between Taitung and Kenting National Park

Driving from Hualien to Taitung, you’ll have to choose between inland Highway 9 or the more remote Highway 11 on the coast. Both are very scenic and perfect for road trips. Consider driving one highway on the way down to Taitung and a different highway on the way back to Hualien.

There are only a few roads connecting the two. Highway 30 in Hualien county is a good one to take because it is fast, but Highway 23 in Taitung is a very slow and winding drive past aboriginal communities.

Driving south from Taitung city, Highway 9 will become the coastal highway. Follow it down the coast then across to the western side of Taiwan. If you’re driving to Kenting National Park, this is fastest to go this way. Reaching the west coast, you’ll then drive to Kenting via Checheng and Hengchun. See my guide to where to stay in Kenting.

A much slower and more remote, but also scenic way is to follow a series of small and narrow (but well paved!) roads through Pingtung county to Kenting. Take Highway 199 to the coast around Xuhai Beach, follow it down to Jiupeng Desert (yes, a desert in Taiwan!), and into Kenting National Park around Manzhou.

See my tips for renting a car in Taiwan.

Where to Stay in Taitung

A picnic table on a wooden balcony with a view of bright green rice paddies
View from our hotel overlooking rice paddies in Chishang

In Chishang, I recommend Papago International Resort (see on Booking / Agoda) for a nicer hotel with a pool. Good Harvest B&B (see on Booking / Agoda), where I shot the above photo, and Howhas (see on Agoda) are local guesthouses close to the rice paddies south of town.

In Guanshan, Lost and Find Homestay (see on Booking / Agoda) is a good choice by the train station with free bicycle rentals included.

In Luye, Jamie’s Guesthouse (see on Booking / Agoda) is a popular hostel. Ninth Great Uncle (see on Booking / Agoda) is a very local guesthouse, while Luminous Resort (see on Booking / Agoda) is a big resort that has seen better days.

A female Taiwanese aboriginal farmer walking between crops on a farm
Meeting an aboriginal farmer when I spent the night art Bunun Leisure Farm

For an aboriginal experience, spend the night at Bunun Leisure Farm west of town. They have various activities and a restaurant.

In Dulan, WaGaLiGong Hostel (see on Agoda) offers surfing lessons. Travel Bug Bistro (see on Booking / Agoda), Tranquilo (see on Booking / Agoda), and On My Way (see on Booking / Agoda) are other popular hostels.

For a mid-range choice, Chateau de Olea (see on Agoda) is a highly recommended local guesthouse.

In Taitung City, Gaya Hotel (see on Booking / Agoda) beside Taitung Railway Village has an infinity pool. If you need to crash for a night, there are several decent hotels by Taitung Station.

Top Things to Do in Taitung

I’ll separate the below Taitung attractions into Highway 9, Highway 11, Taitung City, Green Island & Orchid Island, and South of Taitung City.

Highway 9

If you’re driving from Hualien to Taitung, see my Hualien guide for possible stops before reaching Taitung. Also see my East Coast road trip guide.

Some people spend the night in Yuli town in Hualien, on Highway 9 before it reaches Taitung, but there are three more towns in Taitung which you’ll also want to consider for a stop or overnight stay. The train stops at all of them.

A person in the distance riding a bike down a road between rice paddies
Cycling in Chishang

Chishang (池上) is the first town you’ll reach in Taitung, and it’s my most recommended town for spending a night in Taitung. If you’re taking the train from Hualien, I recommend just coming directly here.

Chishang is the most popular cycling destination in Taitung. Just south of town and Dapo Pond, a beautiful expanse of rice paddies are perfect for cycling.

Two kids on a family electric bicycle in Chishang
Our electric family bicycle in Chishang

One small road in particular, Brown Boulevard (池上伯朗大道, named after Mr. Brown, a local coffee chain) is one of the most famous cycling paths in Taiwan. It was catapulted to fame after a handsome Taiwanese-Japanese actor starred in an Eva Airlines commercial set there.

There’s a lot to know about Chishang, so I suggest you visit my Chishang guide.

An electric family bicycle riding between rows of palm trees with rice paddies beside
Cycling between betel nut palms in Guanshan

Guanshan (關山) is the next town worth considering. It used to be the most famous cycling spot before Chishang took over.

The rural scenery on the cycling loop around town is also beautiful and there are far fewer tourists there. The scenery is more varied than Chishang, but the rice paddy views aren’t quite as stunning as those in Chishang.

A shinto black gate with Japanese shrine in the countryside of Taiwan
A Japanese shrine in Luye

Luye (鹿野) is the third and final town that I recommend stopping or spending the night in. The word “town” might be a stretch – there’s almost nothing here besides farms. But if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s a great place for cycling.

With a scooter, you could also drive up to Luye Highlands (鹿野高台), where there are tea farms/shops. In summer, the incredible Taitung Hot Air Balloon Festival takes place up there, too (see “Taitung Events” section at the end).

Some Taiwanese aboriginals standing in a circle doing a dance performance
Aboriginal performance at Bunun Leisure Farm

To experience aboriginal culture in the area, consider visiting or spending the night at Bunun Leisure Farm (布農部落休閒農場), which is run by the local Bunun tribe. It’s a short drive from Luye. Here are their activity packages.

Chulu Ranch (初鹿牧場) south of Luye is a popular tourist farm with cows and other animals.

Image showing the three main soaking pools at Lisong Hot Spring, with orange and green colorful cliffs behind them
Gorgeous Lisong Hot Spring

Lisong Hot Spring (栗松溫泉), Taiwan’s prettiest wild hot spring, is a 1.5-hour drive from Chishang up the Southern Cross-Island Highway. It’s a tough, 3-hour-return hike to the colorful riverside spring. Here’s my guide to visiting Lisong Hot Spring.

The pretty, alpine Jiaming Lake (嘉明湖) is also accessed from the Southern Cross-Island Highway. This is a 3 to 4-day hike that requires permits. This organized trip will help you with that.

Highway 11

If you’re driving down the coastal Highway 11 from Hualien to Taitung, some of the highway’s best spots are on the Taitung side. See my Hualien guide for the attractions on the coast before you get to Taitung.

The first noteworthy stop is Baxiandong (八仙洞), an archaeological site in a group of coastal caves dating back over 25,000 years. It is only possible to view a few of the caves.

A bridge with multiple arches leading from the coast to a small island
Sanxiantai Arch Bridge

The most famous attraction on the coast of Taitung is Sanxiantai Arch Bridge (三仙台, also called Platform of the Three Immortals or Dragon Arched Bridge).

A bridge with a series of arches leads from the coast to a small offshore island. In 2024, Sanxiantai finally reopened after undergoing renovations and being closed for over a year.

At Jinzun Recreation Area (金樽遊憩區), there’s a lovely view of the sea.

As tempting as the beaches along the east coast look, swimming is not allowed in any of them. The currents and riptides are very strong along the coast, and people die after getting swept out to sea every year.

Two kids walking on a path along the coast of Taitung with mountains in the background
My kids on the coast of Dulan

Next up, Dulan (都蘭) is the best place to spend the night on the coast of Taitung. It is Taiwan’s closest thing to a surfer/hippie/backpacker town. It is an aboriginal village and there’s a small but lively arts scene there.

You can find craft shops, a few cafés/bars, and the occasional concert at Dulan Sugar Factory (新東糖廠文化園區). Note that the town is not right on the beach. You’ll have to walk around 20 minutes or ride a bicycle/scooter to get there.

You can get to Dulan by bus from Taitung City in 1 to 1.5 hours.

An old factory with hippie vendors set up in front of it
Dulan Sugar Factory

Closer to Taitung City, Jialulan (加路蘭遊憩區) is coastal park with artworks while Xiaoyeliu (小野柳 or “Little Yehliu”) is a smaller version of the famous Yehliu Geopark in northern Taiwan, though its rock formations aren’t as impressive.

Taitung City

Taitung is a spread out city with limited attractions, so I only really recommend spending a night here if you’re planning to catch a tour or ferry from there. If you do want to spend some time in the city, I recommend renting a bicycle in front of the train station for exploring.

An old train hangar, railway line, whale shaped statue, and shrine on a mountain in the background
Railway Art Village and Carp Mountain

Railway Art Village (鐵道藝術村 or Tiehua Music Village) is the coolest spot in town. It’s best to visit in the evening or weekends, when the small shops, bars & restaurants are open and there are regular concerts, often by aboriginal performers.

Next to it, Carp Mountain (鯉魚山公園 or Liyushan Park) has walking trails and temples.

Taitung Train Station is inconveniently located at the north end of town. If you have a bit of time to kill, you can see Beinan Archaelogical Site (卑南遺址公園) beside it.

A pond with walking paths beside it in a forested park
Taitung Forest Park

Taitung Forest Park (臺東森林公園) has some pretty ponds and connects to Haibin Park (海濱公園) on the coast. There you can see Taitung Tree of Life (台東生命之樹) by Wang Wen Zhi (王文志), a Chiayi artist famous for his monumental bamboo structures across Taiwan.

Taitung National Museum of Prehistory (國立臺灣史前文化博物館) is pretty good, but it’s a ways west of town by Taitung Airport.

Green Island & Orchid Island

Two of Taiwan’s best offshore islands belong to Taitung county. Ferries to Green Island and to Orchid Island depart from Fugang Harbor (富岡港), but for Orchid Island, I recommend flying there from Taitung Airport.

A white sand beach and dock on the coast of Green Island
Beautiful Green Island

Green Island (綠島), a former prisoners’ island, now has holiday vibes. It’s got some of the best snorkeling and scuba diving in Taiwan, and one of only three salt water hot springs in the world.

Called Zhaori Hot Spring (朝日溫泉), it is an exquisite hot spring experience, with a few pools right on the coast, with sea waves sometimes splashing into them.

Like any of Taiwan’s offshore islands, it’s best to rent a scooter for getting around. This amazing deal includes all the things you need (ferry ticket, scooter, hotel, snorkeling, BBQ), so I highly recommend it.

A round hot spring pool on the coast with walking ramp down into it
Zhaori Saltwater Hot Spring
Close up of white and red canoes made by the Tao tribe on Orchid Island with water and small rocky islands in background
Dao canoes on Orchid Island

Orchid Island (蘭嶼 or Lanyu) is home to Taiwan’s most remote aboriginal tribe, the Dao tribe (達悟族).

Dao people are known for their white loincloths, hand-carved canoes, semi-underground houses, and Flying Fish Festival (see “Taitung Events” section at the end). They don’t appreciate being photographed.

Renting a scooter on Orchid Island is almost a must. There are small coastal rock formations, swimming spots, SUP experiences, snorkeling, and scuba diving to be enjoyed on the island.

Orchid Island requires a little more planning. Deals like this one include many things you need. Avoid coming in winter, when much of the island’s amenities are closed and ferries/flights are often canceled.

Consult my Orchid Island guide for all the details.

A traditional house that is almost totally underground
Traditional underground house on Orchid Island

South of Taitung City

Before leaving Taitung, consider spending a night in a hot spring hotel at Zhiben (知本, also spelled Jhihben or Chipen), Taitung’s best hot spring resort town. It’s a 20-minute drive or 10-minute train ride southwest of Taitung City.

If driving south from Taitung city, Highway 9 will follow the coast past a super long stretch of beach at Taimali (太麻里).

A train parked in a station with the sea in the background
Duoliang Railway Station

The top attraction on this part of the coast is Duoliang Railway Station (多良觀光車站). Trains no longer stop at the station and the station itself is closed to the public, but you can still see it from above.

If you follow the winding road up above the station, you can watch trains go by with the beach and sea behind them. It’s a 40-minute drive south of Taitung city.

Around Daren (達仁), Highway 9 and the train line cross quickly over to the west coast of Taiwan.

Drivers can also take the slower but more scenic route through Pingtung county to Kenting National Park, but it’s faster to drive there by taking Highway 9 to the west coast then going down from there.

See my East Coast road trip article for the details.

Best Taitung Tours

Two kids looking over a rice paddy
My kids looking at the rice paddies in Taitung

The best tour for experiencing the East Rift Valley is this day tour from Taitung city. It includes both Chishang cycling and Luye Highland.

For the coast of Taitung, here’s a day tour from Taitung City that includes Dulan and Sanxiantai.

If you’re planning to visit Green Island or Orchid Island, getting a package deal can save you a lot of trouble. Here’s a package deal for Green Island and a package deal for Orchid Island. You’ll still be traveling independently, but the packages include transportation, scooter (license required), accommodation, and activities.

South of Taitung City, here’s a half-day tour to Duoliang Railway Station.

How to Plan Your Taitung Itinerary

A kid cycling down a road past rice paddies, shot from my behind her head
Cycling in Chishang is a highlight

Many travelers only spend one night in Taitung as a part of their round-island trip, or as an overnight trip from Hualien before heading back to Taipei.

Chishang is my most recommended place to do this, where you can experience cycling past rice paddies in the East Rift Valley. Although one night may seem short, it’s enough to get a good taste of this part of Taitung.

With two nights, base yourself in one of the towns I recommend for two nights and explore the region by scooter or bicycle. Or choose a different town for each night – Yuli (Hualien), Chishang, Guanshan, and Luye all have gorgeous rural scenery, but each has its own vibe.

Two kids running down a gray sand beach beside the ocean
Playing on the beach in Dulan

By car, the driving time from Hualien to Taitung is not so long, but with all the possible stops, it could easily become a 2 or 3-day road trip. Consider driving down Highway 9 in one day, with lots of small stops along the way. Sleep in one of the towns I recommend, then drive back to Hualien on Highway 11 the next day.

Alternatively, spend one day driving from Hualien to one of the towns I recommend, spend the night, then spend the next day driving from that town on to Kenting National Park or Kaohsiung.

Only spend a night in Taitung City if you need to be there for catching a day tour or a ferry to the islands. Consider a night in a Zhiben hot spring hotel if you want a hot spring experience.

What to Eat in Taitung

A hand holding up a bento box with a blue train car behind that says Chishang on the side
Famous lunchbox in Chishang

On Highway 9, Chishang and Guanshan are famous for their railway bento boxes (便當). The rice itself is what stands out, as the rice grown around here is the best in Taiwan.

In Chishang, this shop has the most famous ones (watch for the train car out front), while this shop is the one to go to in Guanshan. We also loved this freshly made tofu skin (豆皮 or doupi) at this tofu skin factory in Chishang.

A hand holding a small paper box filled with deep fried pieces of tofu
Tofu skin freshly made in a tofu factory

There are very few restaurants or shops in Luye, but there’s at least a 7-Eleven. For aboriginal cuisine, Bunun Leisure Farm has activity packages that include an aboriginal set meal.

Some bundles of rice wrapped in large leaves and steamed, with one of them opened
Rice and milet steamed in leaves at Bunun Leisure Farm

On Highway 11, Dulan has the biggest concentration of restaurants. We enjoyed the fish & chips and wave-shaped shaved ice at Taitung Tea House (台澢號). You can find some craft beer at Dulan Sugar Factory.

For the rest of the coast, you’ll pass some simple local restaurants and convenience stores on the highway.

A bowl of shaved ice shaped like a blue wave with white top
“The Wave” shaved ice at Taitung Tea House

In Taitung City, there are several cute little restaurants and craft beer bars at Railway Art Village. The small Taitung Night Market (台東觀光夜市) takes place in front of Sheraton Hotel from Thursday to Saturday.

Try aboriginal food here by Fugang Habor or here in Taitung city. In this hills around town, there are also some cool Puyuma aboriginal restaurants here and here.

A large seashell filled with shaved ice and toppings with a spoon sticking out
Shaved ice in a seashell on Green Island

On Green Island, get shaved ice served in a seashell here. This package deal includes DIY all-you-can-eat BBQ, a must for most locals when visiting islands like Green Island or Penghu.

On Orchid Island, flying fish (飛魚) is a local specialty available everywhere in the catching season (spring and summer). Try it at the island’s tiny night market.

A hand holding up an entire deep fried flying fish
Deep fried flying fish at Orchid Island Night Market

Taitung Events

The Bunun Ear Shooting Festival (Mala-Ta-Ngia or 打耳祭) is a traditional hunting festival of the Bunun Tribe. The festival includes archery, wrestling, pig catching, and grain pounding, and of course lots of food and millet wine (小米酒 or xiaomijiu).

The festival usually takes places in early May – contact Bunun Leisure Farm for information.

A rack with multiple fish hanging and drying in the sun on Orchid Island
Flying fish hanging to dry during the Flying Fish Festival

Orchid Island’s Flying Fish Festival takes place from spring to summer. There is no specific date, as each village has its own celebration on different days every year. The festival (more like a whole season) commemorates the arrival of flying fish.

You’d have to be lucky to catch a local celebration, and photography should only be done with permission. If you visit the island in season, you can see racks of the fish drying everywhere and you can taste the fish at local restaurants.

A row of cartoon shaped hot air balloons with people sitting on a hill looking at them
Taitung Hot Air Balloon Festival

The Taitung International Hot Air Balloon Festival (臺東國際熱氣球嘉年華) on Luye Highland is the biggest event of the year in Taitung. Usually running every day for two months from late June to late August, the event includes an early morning (5:30 to 7 AM) and early evening (5 to 6:30 PM) session of hot air balloon displays.

You can line up and pay to go for a tethered ride, while longer rides are only done when the weather is right. Many of the balloons have crazy shapes, and the official site usually has a log of them.

It’s free to watch and shuttle buses run up to the highland during the event. See my Luye guide for more information.

Three hot air balloons going up but attached to the ground by ropes
Tethered rides at the Taitung Hot Air Ballon Festival

There are often modern (but aboriginal-focused) music festivals held at locations on the coast in Taitung. One example is the Amis Music Festival (阿米斯音樂節), usually in October. Another is the Pasiwali Music Festival in November.

The East Coast Land Arts Festival has concerts from June to September.

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